Liar

By Charlie Smith b. 1947 Charlie Smith
What brings me alive
is less than simplicity,
is a company of soldiers in shiny blue jackets
boiling chickens in the shade         
by the Erasmus Gate, is the fact that my grandfather
died begging for mercy
in a hotel in Atlanta, and that my grandmother, in 1910,
mourned because her breasts   
were small.

I know four men
who paddled the length of the Mississippi
in a dugout they hacked
and burned out of a beech tree. When anyone mentioned rivers
they would look at each other
and their eyes would soften with the memory
of mists and sand bars,
of the grave black brows of river barges.   

I come from a country as large as Brazil,   
but all I remember
are the wet silver webs
of golden jungle spiders
netted in the cane.

I wake up thinking of my brother,   
who, on a July morning in 1954,   
killed a boy without meaning to.   
And I can tell you that this isn’t true,   
that my brother didn’t,
as he swept back a four iron
on the lawn of our house in Sea Island,   
crack the temple of a boy we had only met   
the night before. I can say Yes
I am lying again,
about the boy, about Sea Island,
but as you get up to fix another drink   
I will tell you a story
about sleeping in a hay barn in Turkey
and of waking in the night, as, one by one,   
the farm hands stood out of the rank straw   
to greet us.
                   I want you to know
that my life is a ritual lie
and that I deserve to be loved
anyway. I want you to smile
when I tell of the purple hyacinths
caught in the gears of the raised bridge
over the Chickopee River, I want you to pretend   
you were there.

My sister’s hips were two ax handles wide,   
she wept that no one would love her,
my sister, who waded among yellow poppies
and wondered if she were really alive—I want you to wish   
you had married her,
I want you to say Please, why did she leave me,   
Get her back, O my God,
how can I live without her. I’m not even amazed   
that I want you to say this. Listen,
I came downstairs this morning
and somebody had filled the house with flowers.

Charlie Smith, “Liar” from Red Roads (New York: Dutton, 1987). Copyright © 1987 by Charlie Smith. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Red Roads (Dutton, 1987)

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Poet Charlie Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors

 Charlie  Smith

Biography

Poet and novelist Charlie Smith was born in Moultrie, Georgia. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and, after serving in the Peace Corps in Micronesia, earned a BA from Duke University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. He has written five New York Times Notable Books and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has also won the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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